Wednesday, January 30, 2008

What's cooking Wednesday

Today is the last day of my spotlight on my newest cookbook: Just One Pot. This time I made one of the dessert recipes. I thought it a fitting ending to the month with this book; end of the month, end of the meal, you know?

Chocolate and almond rice pudding

generous 3/4 cup arborio rice
1 small dried red chile (I didn't use this; I don't really like chili and chocolate together)
2 x 2 in strips orange zest
3 cardamom pods
3 1/2 cups milk
1/3 cup hot chocolate powder
2 heaped tsp cocoa powder
1/4 cup butter
1/2 cup slivered almonds
2 squares 70 percent dark chocolate

Place rice, chile, orange zest, cardamom pods, and milk in a heavey-bottom pan over low heat. Add a pinch of salt and stir for a few minutes to stop the rice from sticking while the milk heats up. Simmer very gently, stirring occasionally, for about 20 minutes, or until the rice is tender and most of the liquid absorbed.

Remove and discard the chile, orange zest, and cardamom pods. Stir in the hot chocolate powder, cocoa powder, and most of the butter. Melt the remaining butter in a skillet, then add the slivered almonds and toss until golden. Drain on absorbent paper towels and chop coarsely.

Stir most of the almonds into the pudding and transfer to a serving bowl. Garnish the top with remaining almonds. Break the chocolate into chunks and place in a small bowl. Suspend the bowl over simmering water and stir until melted. Zigzag the melted chocolate over the top of the pudding. Serve lukewarm or cold.

I made a couple of changes: I didn't drizzle any extra chocolate over the top; I felt it was chocolately enough; I served it with whipped cream instead. I also didn't mix the almonds into the pudding; instead I sprinkled them on top of the whipped cream because I didn't want to add crunchy bits into the smooth pudding.

As a recipe note, the flavour of this pudding completely depends on the kind of hot chocolate powder you use. I used Cocoa Camino Dark Hot Chocolate (my absolutely favourite hot chocolate) which isn't very sweet and is, as the name suggests, made of dark chocolate. The result was that the pudding was not very sweet at all. It would taste quite different if you used Macintosh Hot Chocolate (oh, that would be good) or Turtles Hot Chocolate (oh, also good). John added a drizzle of maple syrup to the top of his and declared it food of the gods served thus.

I would make this again but experiment with different kinds of hot chocolate. It was easy to make. Hope loved it. Emily ate the whipped cream off the top of hers.

As for this cookbook, now that I'm at the end of my month of recipes from this book, it was mostly a winner. I wasn't too keen on the eggs masala but I absolutely loved the lamb with tomatoes and cilantro. I really like the fact that each recipe is very quick to make and it makes enough usually for just 4 people making it really nice for a small family. I don't like the fact that many of the recipes call for fairly specialized ingredients that even I don't normally have on hand (me, of the large and diverse pantry). So, I may not suggest you run out and buy this book but I would suggest you borrow the lamb recipe for sure. You won't regret it. I will definitely try out some of her other recipes as well and I'll make sure to mention some of the hits here.

Next week, Karen goes frugal.

Pudding for breakfast

My parents held out on me. If we had hot cereal for breakfast at our house, it was porridge. Never Red River Cereal or Cream of Wheat. Just regular porridge. I'm not complaining. I really like porridge and it is really good for the old bod.

This morning I expanded our hot cereal repetoire around here and made Cream of Wheat. People, it is like pudding for breakfast. Especially when you top it with cinnamon, brown sugar, maple syrup and milk. It was so sweet.

I'm sure it is not so good me but man, is it a nice way to start the day. Dessert for breakfast? I'm all over that.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

She's so precocious

Emily was a star tonight, pulling it all out to show me once again how totally unique and amazing and hilarious she is. If only my memory was good enough (it truly sucks lately) to remember the three things she said in the period of about 5 minutes that had me belly laughing.

"Okay, Hope. Here's the deal...."

"Daddy's gone to get the food. In the meantime, let's read a story."

The best one is currently lost in my grey matter somewhere.

Oh, and the reason that "Daddy's gone to get the food"? Because, it turns out, Edna Staebler wasn't much of a cook.

Honestly, I've tried several recipes out of Food that Really Schmecks and if they aren't a dessert or cookie recipe, they suck. Really suck. Chicken pot pie tonight? Sucked. It was soup with a biscuit crust. Oh, and the vegetables in said soup? Crunchy. Very crunchy.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

I blinked and it's Saturday

You may have noticed that my posts have been, ahem, sparse at best the last week. As I mentioned earlier, I'm heavily involved in the relocation and settlement of a refugee family in Ottawa. It is a lot of work and time. More than I expected. I'm not complaining, I just didn't realize that when I was asked to join the support team for this, my role would be of a heavy co-ordinating nature. I'm learning a lot. I'm having a hopefully positive impact on the life of another family and I'm getting to know a few really great people who are on the team with me.

The blog.... suffers. It, like the rest of of my family, is getting less of my attention than usual.

I hope that after this coming week, there will be less demands of me but I'm not going to get my hopes up. I do hope however that some less-involved team members start to pitch in a little more.

The family is a 24-year-old mother and her two-year-old boy. They escaped from Somalia to Turkey some time ago and came here from Turkey. Her husband is still in Turkey. I can't even imagine the stress she must be under arriving in a new country where she doesn't speak either official language, has a very low literacy level in her own language, has very little contact with any Somali speakers, is unsure of where she'll live, how she'll get any money and when she'll see any family or friends again. Not to mention that she is, for the first time, dealing with cold and snow. I can see the stress on her face although she keeps a very courageous front and happy disposition. She's a strong one. And her boy is handling everything like a champ. He seems perfectly happy, if not thrilled, to see everyone who comes to see him.

It sure puts things in perspective quickly for me. My little daily problems, and even the bigger ones I've encountered over the years, seem pretty small now.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Omi Omio

The Omi is visiting. She got here on Monday and Emily has been completely and fully entertained and ecstatic ever since. There is one difference for Emily in this visit though: the Hope factor has changed. Hope now wants to play with Omi too and Emily is having a hard time with that. She wants Omi all to herself. I haven't found any solution yet or a way to talk her through it. I think this one will just take time.

I've over-extended myself this week while Omi is here though and I don't like it. My involvement with the Refugee Support Group at church is leaving me with less time than I'd like during Omi's visit. I'm not sure how to change that since I've already committed myself to things. Ugh. I hate it when that happens. And I also hate bailing out of things I've already said I'd do. I do this to myself too often and then promise myself I won't do it again. And yet, here we are.

Anyone know anything about cloning?

Sunday, January 20, 2008

I miss you, Mum

Beth asked me if I was doing anything to commemorate today. Three years ago today our mum died.

I got her email asking me this at the end of a very busy day. I taught Sunday School to one very well-behaved girl named Emily and two very rambunctious boys (thank goodness for girls!). Then I sat through what I found to be an emotional church service. After that I rushed off to a Refugee Support Group meeting that lasted almost two hours. Someone graciously drove me home at which point I grabbed the keys to the car, the coffee cake I made and drove to my first knitting lesson (thank goodness there was hummus and pita at the meeting after church).

By dinner, I was exhausted, had a splitting headache and thought, yeah, I commemorated mum today... by overextending myself, saying yes to everyone, no to nobody and ending up tired and with a headache. Just like she would have done! As I put my dinner into my mouth - a hotdog wrapped in a piece of bread with ketchup - my first thought was how mum used to make this for me all the time and how much she loved it, too. And then I thought about how many times a day I have these moments, doing something seemingly meaningless and everyday, how many times a day I think of her still, how she will always be with me through my days because of all the wonderful, everyday, seemingly meaningless things there are that remind me of her.

And it is all so meaningful.

And I realized that although my commemoration of today was really a headache that reminded me of her and how I can be so like her, sometimes in ways that she would chastise me over, the ways that I really commemorate her all the time are through things I can celebrate everyday and that is the best commemoration of all.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

A day out at the movies

On Sunday afternoon I took Emily to see her first movie in a movie theatre. Emily is just a tiny bit into Veggie Tales right now (her favourite CD is Silly Songs with Larry, she knows every character by name and often refers to the Israelites in her imaginary games. Just a little bit into it) so with a new Veggie Tales movie opening (The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything), I thought it would be a great mum and kid special moment.

And it was. I wasn't let down. And the Emily who I love the most, the one who doesn't scream, who isn't rude and doesn't hit, showed up to accompany me.

We got popcorn and her first pop, went in and then sat for 25 minutes while the previews went on and on and on and on. Seriously, why don't the powers that be shorten them for kids movies? There were kids there younger than Emily (which I found astounding given that her attention span was stretched) who had to sit through commercials, movie trivia and then seemingly endless trailers. I wish for the days when it was O Canada, one cartoon and then, Bob's your uncle, let's start the show. I would have arrived later but I knew seats would be scarce if I did that and I was right. So, Emily, every four minutes asked me "Is it on NOW?" "Nope, not yet." "NOW?" "Still no."

After the movie finally started, she wasn't so sure if she liked it. But, after the action really started, she was really excited to be there and loved the whole experience.

I look forward to doing it again someday... for a movie that's few months old, where we can grab our seats a few minutes before it starts.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

What's cooking Wednesday

Welcome to Week 3 of my tour through my newest cookbook, Just One Pot. What I like most so far about this cookbook is the simplicity of the ingredients. Most recipes have a fairly short list of required ingredients. This week is no exception and in fact, it is the reason I chose the recipe. And, unlike last week, this recipe really does use just one pot (if you don't count the rice I made, and I don't).

Chicken with cilantro and tomatoes

750 g boneless skinless chicken breast cut into thick strips
3 tbsp olive oil
3 medium onions
large knob butter
750g tomatoes
1 bay leaf
1 tbsp tamarind paste
3 garlic cloves
1 large bunch cilantro
1 small bunch mint
salt and pepper

I made a few changes to the recipe. I'll indicate that as I go along but I'll put her original recipe first.

Heat 2 tbsp olive oil in a large pan. When the oil is very hot (this is really important), cook the pieces of chicken in batches until the chicken browns and turns crusty. Remove the chicken and set aside.

Peel and half the onions and slice down the halves to make chunky wedges. After you've removed the chicken, add butter to pan and put in the onions. Cook briskly, stirring every now and again, until the onions are wilted and scorched in places. While the onions are cooking place the tomatoes in a bowl and cover with boiling water. Count to 20, then drain, peel and chop. (Okay, so I used canned diced tomatoes which meant I didn't have to do this step - time saver bonus!) Stir the tamarind, bay leaf, and tomatoes (using the canned, I just scooped most of the tomatoes out of the can with a slotted spoon and then poured in a little bit of the juice) into the onions. Cook for 10-15 minutes, or until the tomatoes have broken down a bit (since I used can tomatoes, I only cooked for about 3 minutes because they were already broken down), then return the chicken to the pan.

Cook at a steady simmer for about 20 minutes (I didn't - I would have had dry rubber chicken if I had - I cooked for about 5 minutes), or until chicken is tender. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Peel the garlic and chop very fine. Coarsely chop the leaves from the herbs. When the chicken is done, stir in the chopped herbs and finely chopped garlic and serve over rice.

John and I totally loved this. I will definitely make it again. Hope like the sauce on the rice. Emily didn't try it but she hasn't really eaten any supper the last two days for some reason.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Take me away

I searched and searched YouTube for the Calgon Take Me Away commercial as a video explanation of my day. It is naught to be found. But, this is just as good, not to describe my day but to bring me a few laughs and remind me of a time when my only cares in the world were if there was an ample supply of Nerds at the corner store, how long the smell would last in my Strawberry Shortcake's hair and if I had enough beads to finish my friendship pins.

Ed. to add: John won't stop talking about how I should qualify this video and tell everyone how offensive I find it. I pointed out that people who read this blog should know me well enough by now to know that I obviously don't condone racial stereotypes. But he wouldn't relent so here I am adding the caveat. He's good like that.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Apparently I gave birth to twins, just two years apart

It's their hair, isn't it? They're both looking distinctly like young Beethoven's. Hair appointments going under list of things to do.

And if this isn't one of the cutest things you've ever seen.... well, I don't think we can be friends anymore.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Treasure Hunt Debrief

A few people have asked how Emily's treasure hunt went. I've been behind in getting a post up about how it played out.

It went great. In fact, it was the highlight in what has been a difficult week. Emily has been testing limits, and going well beyond them, for the past week and a half and this week it really wore me down. I think it is three-year-old stuff and not a complete chemical imbalance but I'm not ready to make a verdict yet. We've been subjected to screaming, kicking, rudeness, crying, insolence and Hope has been hit and pinched several times. Then she does a 180 and is back to the girl I know. We never know right now what we're going to get and what might set her off but sadly her default right now is to be rude to us and let me tell you, I need a vacation.

So, I devised the treasure hunt to give her and me a break from the conflict and as something special for her and me to do together while Hope slept. It worked so well. We both had a great time.

I drew a map that showed different routes through the main floor of our house. At the end of each colour-coded dotted line there was an X with a number. That marked part of the treasure. There were seven treasures in all.

I started by explaining the map to Emily and showing her how to follow each line and how to figure out where the treasure would be. She needed help for a while following each line, especially when they crossed another line but by the last few treasures, she was able to follow the lines on her own without getting mixed up by other routes. She was also impeded by my sorry excuse for a map. I started out well and then the scale got all wrong and I ended up using only 2/3 of the paper and having to squish everything in. There's a reason I didn't go into cartography. That reason and because it sounds totally boring.

She really is such a smart girl and can follow instructions and learn so quickly. I was really proud of her. It was a great adventure that we both needed.

Here is a little photo diary of the hunt:

Thursday, January 10, 2008

It's possible that I'm a bit of dirty bird

Yesterday I finally pulled out the vacuum to do a post-Christmas suck of the living room rug and furniture. I'd put it off long enough and it was getting nasty.

I was just plugging in the vacuum when Emily noticed what I was doing.

Emily: Are you vacuuming, Mummy?
Me: Yup.
Emily: (short pause)

Emily: Is Omi coming?

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

What's cooking Wednesday

Welcome to Week Two of delving into my newest cookbook: Just One Pot. I'm thinking that the author really should have named it: Just One Pot (If You Don't Count Those Other Two Pots That You'll Probably Use). I really liked tonight's recipe but the recipe called for three pots. What gives? The back of the book cover reads: Delicious, easy meals that are simple to clean up because they're made in just one pot. Perhaps I'm getting caught up in the title and the promise the back of the book makes but I'm a bit of a stickler for accuracy. The fact is they are simple to clean up but only because I didn't do the dishes tonight.

On with the recipe. John and I declared it a winner. Emily ate potatoes. Hope ate ketchup mixed with sour cream. Mmm, mmm good.

Greek lemon lamb with new potatoes

1 lb small new potatoes scrubbed
1 bunch green onions, sliced
1 large clove garlic, chopped
1 lemon
2 zucchini, grated
1 2/3 cups baby leaf spinach (or frozen and thawed like I used)
1 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp butter
1 lb ground lamb
3 tbsp chopped mint
2 tbsp plain yogurt or sour cream
salt and pepper

Boil the potatoes in salted water until tender. Drain and keep warm. Put a second pan of water on to boil. When boiling vigorously, add the spinach. Bring back to a boil and cook for 30 seconds, then drain in a colander. Splash with cold water and press against the side to extract maximum water, then squeeze into a ball and chop coarsely. Or, if you use frozen, put in pan with 2 tbsp water until thawed then drain and squeeze.

In heavy-bottomed skillet or other wide-based pan, heat olive oil and butter over medium heat and stir in the green onions and garlic. After a couple of minutes raise the heat and add the meat, cooking until nicely browned. Season with salt, pepper and then grate in some lemon zest (about 1 tbsp or so). Squeeze in the juice of the lemon. Cook until the lemon juice has amalgamated with the buttery meat juices and turned syrupy.

Stir in 2 tbsp of the mint and the zucchini. Toss around for a few minutes until the zucchini begins to weep and soften but remains distinctive; don't overcook. Stir in the spinach and remaining mint. Reheat and stir in the yogurt. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Serve the meat over the potatoes.

I love lamb but I don't eat it all that often. This gives me another recipe to add to my small collection (okay, it isn't a collection at all) of lamb recipes, and it isn't expensive either. This is a winner.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

One or two good ideas a year

Once in a while I get a good idea. I seem to be a bit short on them lately but the last two days I've had two. Okay, I'll admit that once I thought them over a bit I knew that someone somewhere has done this before. In fact, probably a lot of people have done these things before. Eh, I'm still rather pleased with myself.

First idea was yesterday's lunch. I am sick of making sandwiches, macroni and cheese or tuna. I opened the fridge and a lone roll of Pillsbury Crescent Rolls stared back at me, leftover from a Christmas hors d'oeuvre. I grabbed them, filled each roll with cream cheese mixed with ricotta cheese, caramelized onions and a small piece of ham. They were awesome! The girls loved them. And the delicious filling covered up that weird Pillsbury aftertaste.

Idea two is a treasure hunt. This morning Emily pretended that a piece of paper with some scribbles on it was a map. I had a brilliant idea right then. While she has been in bed for quiet time, I drew a map of the main floor of the house and marked treasure around the map (numbers 1 to 7). I hid bits of treasure in those spots. I used a toy that I was saving for her birthday (but to be honest she would probably enjoy more now) that had several pieces to it. Voila! A fun game that will (hopefully) teach her what a map is and how to use one. I'll let you know if it works well or if it turns into a three-year-old meltdown which is entirely likely based on her behaviour lately. Off for tea and then to don my hunting jacket!

Sunday, January 06, 2008

I thought the rush was over

Normally after Christmas I feel this awesome sense of time moving in slow-play mode, like everything was going so fast and then the tape kind of got tangled and things start moving frame by frame instead. I have always liked that feeling for the first few days following New Years Day but I remember last year, around the second week after Christmas, that time started to creep by. I found myself desperately looking for activities for Emily and me with Hope in tow.

This year is different and I don't know why. It doesn't feel quieter, the pace isn't slower. Sure, there are less visitors and activities but I feel just as harried, rushed and disorganized. Not to mention the house feels just as dirty. Maybe dirtier even. The Christmas tree finally hit the bricks yesterday. All the decorations are gone and the Christmas cookies are now planted solidly around my middle. But I still feel like I'm in a slippery funnel and I can't get a toe hold.

I think I know why. Their names are Emily and Hope. Christmas with them was wonderful, magical even. But unfortunately the burst of energy they both experienced has propelled them forward like some kind of kinetic jet pack that isn't slowing down. I'm having trouble keeping pace with them, keeping Emily entertained enough (at least to her liking) and keeping her agreeable. The last few days have been tough with Emily. She's been rude, loud, hepped up on goof balls in general. Hope is in the early days of weaning so that is wearing us both out a little bit and changing her wake-up schedule so I'm forced to hit the ground running with both girls out of bed at the same time.

This sounds like one long complaint. I'm sorry for that. I'm just damn tired. I also feel like I have very little time to myself - it adds up to about two hours a day total - to do things I really want to do: like knit and cross-stitch and learn to smock and get back into my sewing. I really want to throw myself into my fibre arts this winter but I'm not finding the time. Not to even mention the sadly neglected blog, cooking and baking (for fun) and reading. And my new course starts tomorrow night. I'm seriously considering dropping it for this semester so I can have a breather, do what I really want to do, and have John home a little more. Taking this course means he has to work on Sunday afternoons to prepare for his teaching the following week.

I'm not nearly as grumpy as this post suggests. I just needed to get it all out before I go upstairs, pick up some knitting, have a cup of tea and relax.

That tea may look distinctly like a glass of framboise. Hey, don't judge me. I deserve it.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

What's cooking Wednesday

As I was glancing over my large cookbook collection just before Christmas, I had one of those moments I occasionally have, an angst moment, when I wish I spent more time in more of my cookbooks. There are good recipes there but I get into ruts like everyone else, not breaking the spines of many of my books except to make the one or two recipes I've made several times before. Often I pull the same five or six books off the shelf over the month and the others are sadly ignored. Well, no longer! In this latest moment of angst, I had an idea. For the next year I'm going to choose one cookbook per month, a cookbook I don't often use but want to get to know or get to know anew, and pull my WCW recipes for that month from that cookbook. The following month, I'll move onto another. As you can see, I certainly have enough to get me through twelve months and probably twelve more after that without hitting the same neglected cookbook twice (this is only part of my collection; the most neglected books are kept on another bookshelf in the basement):

I love my cookbooks and I love spending an evening reading them. They are all good and deserve their day in the sun so I'm going to choose books I don't cook from often, a few of them will be classics such as Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking or Madame Benoit Cooks at Home; others will be favourites of mine that I simply haven't used in a long time; some will be sentimental favourites such as The Frugal Gourmet Cooks Three Ancient Cuisines (the first cookbook I bought). This month I will be cooking from my newest cookbook: Just One Pot. John bought it for me for Christmas and I'm really excited about trying some of the recipes in there.

Tonight we wanted something vegetarian so I chose Eggs Masala. The flavour was excellent. It was fairly easy and quick to prepare. If you don't like curries, don't make this. Emily wasn't keen. We deemed it a "grown-up meal." But, I like to throw a curry at her once in a while to get her used to the flavours so that hopefully she will eventually see the light and we can start eating curries again on a more regular basis. John and I both agreed that the eggs were "interesting" and "different." I don't know if I would make it with the eggs again. I think I might substitute eggplant or chicken instead.

Eggs Masala

4 cloves garlic, minced
1 inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and grated
2 cardamom pods
1 tsp coriander seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp whole cloves
1/2 tsp black peppercorns
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
400g canned chopped tomatoes
6 hard boiled eggs, peeled and sliced in half lengthwise
2 large onions, finely diced
olive oil
lemon juice
2 tbsp chopped cilantro leaves

1. Remove seeds from cardamom pods. Grind the cardamom, coriander seeds, cumin, cloves and peppercorns to a powder in food processor or spice grinder and then add the garlic, ginger and 2 tbsp of water. Blitz to make a stiff masala paste and stir in the cayenne pepper.

2. Heat the oil in a large pan over medium heat and cook the onions until they turn caramel brown. Stir the masala paste into the onions and stir-fry for a couple of minutes. Add the tomatoes and some salt. Simmer for 10-15 minutes, or until sauce begins to thicken. Taste and adjust seasoning with more salt and lemon juice. If you need to cut the acidity a bit, add a touch of sugar or a dollop of ketchup.

3. Get the sauce very hot, then stir in the cilantro and place the eggs, sunny-side up, in the sauce. Continue simmering until the eggs are warmed through. Serve with rice.