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Pepper was chasing what I thought was a mouse in the yard, behind the trash bins, under leaves, then around the corner.  It turned out to be this guy:

what sort of lizard are you?

To my surprise, it survived the attack of the Boston Terrier reasonably unscathed.  Mind you, he (or she) is missing some tail.  I’m hoping the tail wasn’t poisonous to dogs, I’m not sure if Pepper ate the tip of her prey or not.  There are bright turquoise and black stripes on the belly of this beast, all the more reason for my concern of toxicity.  He lived through the night in a bucket with water and rocks to lay on.  Not sure how long it will take residence here, this house is starting to feel like 64 Zoo Lane.

Then there’s the bees.

Don’t worry, she is stingless and her army of workers are very sweet.

The monkeys (Big Brother and Little Sister) provide everyone with entertainment.  They were playing in the boxes large enough to house themselves that arrived today.  The boxes held my latest kitchen toy, a vacuum sealer!  Haven’t had a chance to play with it yet but I have plenty of work lined up for it.  I had to put the worker bees (fondant cupcake toppers) in a honey box (fridge) to keep the monkeys from eating all of them.

Dogs chasing lizards.  Monkeys eating bees.  What’s next?!?

The bee model is for Big Brother’s insect project for school.  The chocolate cupcakes, well it’s a muffin recipe actually, are for his class snack.  His teacher has no idea that I made these for everyone, can’t wait to see her reaction!

The bees were my second fondant decoration (read about the flowers here).  A simple construction of yellow jelly bean shape bodies, a black stripe, and white wings.  The wings were a hand-made pop can punch, no need to buy all those little tiny cutters when simple shapes can be made at home.  Carefully cut a strip of tin pop can (circumference cut not a top to bottom cut), shape it as best you can, hold the shape or use some scotch tape to stick the ends together.  Voilà!  Instant fondant cutter!

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Remember how I was trying to think of ways to use up my bag of Teff flour?  Well, I did it again.  This time I made muffins with a boost of fiber from the sneaky addition of Teff to the batter.  The neat thing about Teff is that in small portions it is easily incorporated into any recipe with all-purpose flour, including these lemony blueberry muffins.

Look good enough to eat, eh?

Here’s another tip for you… If you are like me and don’t like soggy areas of muffin around the fresh berries, use dried blueberries instead.  Dried berries are always in season and you won’t have to wait for them to thaw.  The best part is no soggy muffins!

  • 1 cup dried blueberry flavoured cranberries
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup Teff flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 Tbsp vanilla
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 12 paper muffin cups
  • turbino sugar for sprinkling

Note: My typical recipe includes 2 or 3 mashed bananas, the lack of extra moisture should have been more apparent to me.  This recipe would be improved with the addition of a 1/2 cup of plain yogurt or applesauce.  I didn’t have anything else on hand.

Pre heat the oven to 325ºF.

Mix the wet ingredients with the lemon and blueberries and set aside.  Combine the dry ingredients (except the turbino sugar) in a large bowl.  Make a well in the dry mix and pour in the wet mix.  Stir until the flour disappears, the consistency should be lumpy but evenly moist.

Divide the batter between 12 regular sized muffin cups in a metal tin.  These would also be cute as mini muffins for a brunch or coffee table.  Top with about 1/2 tsp of the turbino sugar.  Turbino sugar is coarse and will not completely melt during baking, this leaves a crunchy topping to the muffins.

Bake for 25-30 minutes, rotate the pan half way through.  The middles should be set and the edges lightly golden brown.

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For those who are veggiephobic, this post is for you.

I get that some people, my son included, do not like tomatoes.  My roommate in college hated tomatoes.  Would not touch anything red on her plate.  This was a bit of a conundrum because 90% of the meals I could cook back then involved canned tomato in some form.  I think it was my (attempt at) Jambalaya that converted her from a tomato-tyrant to lycopene-lover!  The same trick has not been as successful with my son, mostly because my Jambalaya contains another food phobia of his: seafood.  Shrimp to be exact.  He gags at the sight of any aquatic species on a plate.  I wonder if he is trying to avoid accidentally eating Nemo?

To get those good wholesome tomatoes in his system, they had to be sweet and invisible.   I would need a cloaking device: the oven.

Roasting any vegetable (I know tomatoes are fruit, but that’s not important here) will concentrate the natural sugars and begin to caramelize them.  Humans, especially children, seek out sweet foods; this tells our brains that this food is fuel.  Bitter and sour indicate a possible threat, like poisons and broccoli.   Treat your less palatable vegetables to an artificial sun tan in your oven or on the grill.  They will be less likely to send off alarms, hissy fits, and tantrums at the dinner table.

This roasted sauce has five ingredients.

  • organic tomatoes, halved and cored
  • red bell pepper, halved and seeded
  • olive oil
  • salt (to taste)
  • herbs: Greek or Italian herb blend, or fresh basil and oregano

Set the tomatoes and peppers cut side down in a roasting dish.  Brush the skins with oil.  Roast at 350ºF until soft, about half an hour.

Let the pan cool before carefully removing the skins from the tomatoes and peppers.  Put the pulp and any juices into a blender or food processor.  Add a pinch of salt and herbs to your taste.  Blend until smooth.

Pour the blended peppers and tomatoes in a pot, bring the mixture to a slow simmer and reduce to whatever thickness you like.  Store in the fridge in non-reactive containers up to a week or use it immediately with pasta.  If you reduce it further, it would make a great pizza sauce.

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Good Carrots - Bad (for you) Chips - Ugly Broccoli

Broccoli that over stays its initial welcome in the crisper gets a little gnarly looking.  With a shake, trim, and peeling it can suffice as a snack.  Add crunchy carrots and kettle salt and pepper chips and you have the setting of a dip plate.  Pick your favorite dip and have at it!

Mmm... French Onion Dip

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For a long time, I’ve missed my Grandma.  I’ve replayed the last moments we shared together over and over when her birthday approaches.  Shortly after I moved away to begin a new career, she celebrated her 90th birthday.  I returned to attend the family gathering in a tiny Bahá’í hall in Edmonton and was carrying my first child.  Those pregnancy hormones filled me with tears, uncontrollable tears.  They just overflowed while we watched a slide show of old photographs portraying Grandma’s life.  She had reached Great Grandma status even before that day, as some of my cousins had small children and mine was next.

I have fond memories of her two-story house in Mayfield.  Her old cats and Shih tzu who kept her company.  The old candies stowed away in a wood side board table with sliding doors on the front.  Her tea and ginger snap cookies and dark heavy bread.  That was not her first home though.  She lived on the calm quiet shores of Sylvan Lake in a cabin like structure.  Her husband, my Grandfather, was a carpenter and inventor.  I’m sure he built the last standing building I saw at the lake many years ago with grandma.  I could tell she missed him, his handiwork.  Grandma didn’t speak of him much, I cannot recall a conversation that included him.  He is a mystery to me.  We spent many cool summers at the lake with Grandma.

In the city, Grandma never drove a car.  She would have her children and grandchildren taxi her to fetch groceries or reach appointments, or to go to the Pacific Coast.  Of course buses and real taxis served her well while she was mobile enough to use them.  While I lived with her, in the second house which was a bungalow, I offered her rides to Safeway.  Or I would go pick up what she needed.  We went shopping together before I moved away, she insisted on buying me a pair of sandals.  “It’s gonna be pretty warm down there in Texas, you need something comfortable.”  I still have those white leather sandals, they remind me of her each time I wear them.

Besides the shoes, I have her bread recipe.  It’s been hiding.  Or rather, I’ve kept it tucked away in my recipe binder since her passing.  I still get upset every now and then but I know she only wished for my happiness and catch myself before darkness sets in.  My solemn mood requires a quiet reprieve from busy business, time to reflect and honour those who brought us here.

The recipe has several different types of flours and grains.  It calls for seeds and raisins but I left them out for this batch.  I added my twist with quinoa flakes to use up the bulk bin purchase from earlier in the week.  Who knows if the “cup” used was a proper measuring cup or a tea cup, or there could have been no cup at all.  This was her bread, after a while why would a recipe be necessary?  All I figured out was the large quantity of flour that was left out of what was transcribed, about 10 cups.  I will consult with my aunt on the accuracy of the recipe, maybe there’s another version.

Luckily, I had a full bag of bread flour so the unexpected 10 cups were easily accommodated.

I left out the third addition of water because I had a very soupy mixture in my bowl to contend with.  I split the resulting slurry between two large bowls and started adding flour.  And adding more.  Suddenly it came together and I had something to knead.  Five minutes for each ball of dough from each large bowl.  They proofed beautifully, aromatic and sweet from the molasses.  Still looked like a blond version of Grandma’s bread, at least it smelled and felt like bread now.

The two bowls became four loaves.  None of my bread pans are the same size or material so this was an interesting way to find out which ones will work best for dark breads.  My rye breads are rounds on sheet pans, so I haven’t seen the loaf pans in action for this sort of bread.  I topped two loaves with a dusting of flour, the other with honey and poppy seeds.

Pidä huolta itsestäsi, Isoäiti.

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Little Sister was at the helm of the KitchenAid mixer for this recipe.  She was supposed to be supervising the making of big chewy cookies, which translates to counting the cups and spoonfuls of ingredients going into the bowl.  She wants to help mommy and I’m more than happy to have her with me learning the craft.

Unexpected things can happen when 2-year-olds bake.

I turned around for a second and Little Sis had grabbed the baking soda box and her measuring spoon.  As my eyes and brain tried to work together, she had already dispensed an unknown amount of the white powder into the bowl.  This would not have been so dramatic except there was whipped butter and a measurement of sugar sitting in the bowl at the time of her “addition”.

I had to guess how much was in there and left it as it was and hoped that it was enough and not too much.

Little Sister was allowed to stay and help.  She was now manager of the M&Ms.

Monster Cookies

Adapted from Chunky Peanut, Chocolate, and Cinnamon Cookies from COOKIES by Martha Stewart Living Magazine

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup brown rice flour (or use all-purpose)
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 3/4 cup butter at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup smooth peanut butter
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup M&Ms or Smarties
  • 1/2 cup dark chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350ºF.

Mix flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon in a bowl and set aside.  Cream butter, peanut butter with sugars.  Mix in eggs and vanilla.  Add a little of the flour at a time, then the chocolates.  Chill for 15 minutes (I didn’t).

Drop by large spoonfuls on baking sheets.  Flatten using your palm.  Bake for 10-14 minutes (it will depend on the size of your cookies).

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For as long as I can remember, cheese and crackers with a side of dill pickles was the snack plate of choice growing up.  I was dragged to countless Lion’s Club, Toastmasters, and potlucks as a kid.  My brother and I looked forward to creating the perfect glass of “swamp water” and playing hide-and-seek on the main floor of the community hall, where most of these functions took place.  Weddings were always upstairs.  The meetings and communal gatherings were held in the basement, in the open space in front of the caterer’s kitchen.

While attending weddings of my elder cousins, there was a second round of food.  This was typical for my family, and since two of my aunts were caterers, many other families would have experienced the same routine.  The late night snack, I think, was a way for people to eat the leftover roast and keep a good food-to-drink ratio until the party ended.  With my husband’s family, there is a similar ritual, only the fare is different.  Back home we had rolls, cold cuts, cheese, pickles, maybe a salad and desserts.  Down South this is rice, beans, and possibly menudo.  Menudo is said to help ease the transition in the morning.

(from left) Kerrigold aged white cheddar, polish pickles, colby cheese, honeycrisp apple

After moving away from home, the ritual continued in my apartment.  When I worked evenings as a security guard, this was often my snack after work.  To this day I’ve maintained my affinity for cheese.  My children also love cheese.  Any block of cheese in the fridge will never last long enough to grow unsightly fuzz.

What is your favorite midnite snack? 

Are you attending SXSW 2012?

 

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One Pan Lunch

Normally I would think of a one-pot meal occurring in a large pot or crock-pot.  This was a one pan lunch, well two if you could the counter-top rice cooker.

We were visiting Grandma and Grandpa on the farm.  Hubby picked up a few things from one of the two grocery stores in town, including a hefty slab of Atlantic Salmon.

The Grandparents cook mostly very simple meals.  I always have a hard time finding spices that are fresh, nevermind any BBQ sauce.  I’d love to cook more while we are visiting, and often I just venture out to find the ingredients.  I once found bugs in a sealed box of pasta, wondered how long that box was living in the cupboard.  The rule of thumb for spice life expectancy is one year, six months for dried herbs. If the grandparents had gone to culinary school online, they would have known that.  After this time, you might find surprises in the herbs and your cayenne tastes like sawdust with a little pepper mixed in. I threw out the cayenne.

If you are not a regular spice it up type of cook, or your dining room patrons have less tolerance for creative dishes, it’s best to buy the smallest quantity of herb or spice you need.  Bulk bins have not caught on as much in the town near Grandma’s house, but this is the way to go.  Some spices with a lot of punch (cardamom) lose their flavour quickly, I encourage fresh grinding for these.

This salmon should have been coated in my lucky fish sauce, however most of the ingredients were M.I.A at the Grandparent’s house.  A dry rub of sorts was made with white pepper, sea salt, garlic powder, and onion powder.  The skin is on the bottom of the fillet that will roast whole, this keeps it moist.  Arrange a bundle of fresh asparagus in the voids of the pan.  Roast uncovered at 200ºC (Grandma’s gas stove is in metric!) for 15 – 20 minutes.

We had the salmon and asparagus with brown rice.  It was light and filling for lunch, just the right feeling you want in your belly before a 5 hour car ride home.

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The Edmonton Tourist offered up a spot on her blog for me to fill in over the holidays.  I love her blog and was delighted to be her guest.  Here is what I wrote for her in case you missed it, and be sure to visit The Edmonton Tourist!

I must explain that this is not a tale involving Mickey Mouse.  You see, “Disneyland” is the nickname we’ve given to “Grandma’s House”.  This is a large ranch home with pearly white wrought iron fence and gate.  There is a cast of characters who all wear fur: chivas (the goats), Bobcat (the orange tabby), Mitcha (the granny cat), and then a threesome of canines.  The kids always have a blast at the grandparent’s house, even though it’s not even close to being baby-proof.  Grandma and Grandpa spoil the kids with attention, ice cream, and fun playing outside.  There’s a swing set, merry-go-round, stairs (which are very steep and they are not to be played on, Big Brother figured out how to “surf” down the stairs), cookie jars, soda pop, fruit bowls and cartoons.  The 5 hour drive home is predominantly quiet due to the very overdue nap the kids need to recover from over stimulation.

So the stage is set for a string of improvisations.

We arrived two days before Christmas, I was ready to help prepare dinner for our family.  At Thanksgiving, I had toted along a box of my essentials (herbs, spices, notes).  It was not really necessary and I decided to leave my stuff at home as not to insult our hosts.  Ahead of time, I had phoned to find out what the main dish was going to be, turkey, ham, or a roast beef?  Grandma said she would find something and not to worry.  So I didn’t.  That is until I found a pork butt thawing in the sink.  This was not the “worry-free” meal idea I had in mind for a holiday dinner.  Pork butts (or shoulders) are best slowly roasted or smoked after a good brine bath.  There was no time for a brine, there was hardly enough time to thaw the butt out!  I’ll just improvise:  a dry marinade that I loved from Julia Child’s cook book (coincidently the very same one Grandma had given to me for Christmas some years ago).

I start pulling out the ingredients for the rub.  Garlic cloves, salt, pepper, thyme, sage, allspice, garlic press…  Garlic press?  I had half a head of garlic to plow through and could not find a garlic press in the four jam packed drawers of kitchen tools.  I’ll just improvise and finely mince with one of the multitude of dull knives (I couldn’t find the knife sharpener either).

Dessert was next.  An upside-down cranberry-orange cake, this required the zest of the orange.  In all my searching for the garlic press I never noticed a microplane to get a fine zest off the oranges, instead I improvised with a vegetable peeler and chopped the skin strips.  Half way through, Grandma found me and pulled a microplane in two sizes from the exact place I was rummaging minutes earlier.  Why couldn’t she stay in the kitchen with me? Oh, right, the kids were pulling her in all opposite directions from where I needed her. 

The kids needed her watchful eye more than I needed a garlic press, so I let it go in my mind and continued working alone.

In the rush to leave our house, I forgot to grab my camera and the cheese dip mix I had prepared to take with me.  They were perched on top of the fridge next to my recipe notebook I’ve had since 7th grade.

So… I improvised!  One of the dip mixes was an onion dip from Epicure (my step mom sells Epicure in Sherwood Park).  I bought some onion soup mix and used that instead.

By the time dinner was ready, I felt depleted of tricks to get through making dinner in a pinch, Disneyland requires many pinches.  To top the evening off, Big Brother was running around without socks or shoes (not recommended in Disneyland), he was told “Don’t run around with bare feet!”  He paused and retorted “I’m not a bear.  I don’t have bear feet!”  We all laughed aloud, it was the perfect end to an imperfect time in the kitchen.

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